On last week’s episode of Glee, gay characters Kurt and Blaine kissed, and not just a peck-on-the-cheek kiss. A full out passionate, lip-smacking smooch. I was pretty pleased about this (ok, I was grinning from ear to ear) and then I watched this. It’s a video of a group of teens watching the show who jump and squeal when the kiss goes down. And then I started wondering – would a bunch of teens have the same reaction if one of the characters came out and said, “hey, I had an abortion, and I’m so relieved to have my life back”?
I know what you’re thinking – two gay characters finally kissing and a woman talking about her abortion openly and honestly are two totally different scenarios. Who cheer leads for an abortion? But hear me out. For all it’s flaws, Glee has managed to make a gay kid one of the show’s most popular characters. There’s something a little radical about that.
And yet, this question popped into my mind. Is there any hope for a female character who has had an abortion to be so celebrated, so beloved by fans and foes of the show alike? How did the lives of gay characters become central plot points in mainstream tv shows, while pregnant characters still rarely mention abortion?
To compare the gay rights movement and the feminist movement is an impossible task. Yet these movements are more similar than different – both are fundamentally about sexuality, personal freedom, and (reproductive) autonomy. Both have been radically organizing for centuries or more, demanding equality, often acting as allies. And what do we have to show for all this hell-raising? For one thing, we have Kurt and Blaine kissing on tv. Few, if any, abortions in sight.
It’s time for the pro-choice movement and our allies to admit some failures. Somehow, despite the proliferation of national and local feminist organizations, we haven’t gotten nearly as far as we should have. We have legal abortion, but that is not enough. We need accessible, safe, compassionate abortion. We need comprehensive, affordable family planning options. We need free prenatal care and childcare. And that’s just on the reproductive justice front.
It’s time we take a page out of the AIDS activist ACT UP handbook. It’s time we started demanding instead of asking politely. What exactly do I mean? When prices for AIDS medication went through the roof, ACT UP members infiltrated and chained themselves to the Stock Exchange. When Cosmopolitain published a scientifically bogus article saying that if you have hetero sex you can’t get HIV, ACT UP shut down Cosmo’s building. They infiltrated news studios, post offices, Church ceremonies, and much much more (read the history of ACT UP here).
ACT UP is just one piece of the gay rights movement, and even they were far from perfect. And yet, no matter how much you gripe or gloat about the gay rights movement and the big orgs associated with it, they’re winning their culture war. Is it a milestone when two white, upper middle class cis-gendered gay males make out on a mainstream tv show? Yes.
Would there be more vocal support for abortion rights if 1 out of every 3 female TV characters had an abortion? There have been dozens more queer tv characters than those who’ve had abortions. Problematic as they are, these shows exist. I’m talking about The L Word, Queer as Folk, Will & Grace — hell, wikipedia even has a page titled Lists of Television Programs with LGBT characters. I’m not trying to engage in oppression olympics, but let’s be clear – visibility matters.
Which brings me to something else — pride. Would there be more enthusiastic activism if we celebrated ourselves every once in a while? There are annual gay pride marches in cities around the globe. Why do we only mobilize when we’re desperate, when the situation is bleak? See: the Rallies for Planned Parenthood/Title X only after both family planning programs have been defunded.
But it can’t just end with pregnancy pride marches. Where is our version of It Gets Better? Where are our radical fringes demanding justice? Why don’t we take pride in our movement, celebrate ourselves and our values, and, at the same time, fight like hell and win?
The most recent numbers from the Pew Research Center show that more Americans than ever before support gay marriage, and that a majority of Americans support legal abortion in all or most cases. It’s time for our media, our laws, OUR MOVEMENT to reflect the same.